August 2015 Posts

17: Japan “The Land of the Rising Sun”

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imagesAfter a short stop in Honolulu our plane soared to an altitude of 30,000 feet for a 14 hours flight to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” I wondered whether books, movies, meals, alcohol and the occasional nap would distract me from the stress of being in a small space for a long time!

When I could not longer sit in my seat I walked up and down the aisles and talked with other passengers along the way. I met UnknownAustralians, New Zealanders, Germans, and added our brief talks to my travel diary. When I returned to my seat K asked, with a look on his face as if he had tasted something bitter, where had I been. Chatting with people, I replied. Why don’t you just sit down and read, he said, turning the page in his book, dismissing me.

I didn’t think much about his remark until we were in our Tokyo hotel room unpacking and he turned to me saying,” I think this trip was a mistake. I might not continue on with you.”

Shocked by his comment I could only reply, your friends are meeting us downstairs in an hour. Lets get ready. He nodded. And I was left  wondering what other surprises might be in store for me.

That first night in Tokyo two schoolmates of K’s, their wives, and a beautiful old woman, introduced as Mrs. Inouye, their grandmother, arrived at out hotel lobby to take us to dinner. They offered us beautifully wrapped packages, a traditional Japanese welcome. Mine was a silk scarf which I wrapped around my neck saying “Thank you”while they bowed even though everyone but Mrs. Inouye spoke English.

We set off for dinner, with Mrs. Inouye holding my hand till we reached our destination. Entering through two huge and ornately carved doors we found ourselves in a golden hued softly lit room, with low set burnished wooden tables and floor cushions on a mat covered floor. Ceiling fans whispered above. The only adornment were the staff’s jewel colored kimono’s.

our hostess

our hostess

Mrs. Inouye sank onto a cushion pulling me down next to her. She patted my cheek, then my hair and a beautiful smile lit up her  face.  I thought perhaps my platinum hair mesmerized her!

One of the servers handed us hot towels to wash our hands. Menus written in Japanese, without translation, arrived. I settled back as the men ordered, taking note of how odd the Japanese language sounded and wondered what would arrive at our table.

 Small stone carafe’s of warmed Sake, the traditional Japanese alcoholic drink, were placed on the tables with tiny cups. Mrs. Inouye poured  a cup of Sake and offered it to me. It was my first taste of Sake. I quickly emptied my cup and held it out for a refill.

 The next few courses were a clear miso soup, followed by a variety of

my first sushi meal

my first sushi meal

vegetables, steamed sticky rice, and  a myriad of sauces in tiny bowls. Finally a wooden block with bits and slivers of raw fish was set in the middle of the table, my first sushi experience. Using her chopsticks, Mrs. Inouye examined every morsel of fish before placing a bit of this, a bit of that, on my plate along with fresh ginger and wasabi.

Other than a cherrystone or oyster I had never eaten raw fish nor the sauces. Bravely I maneuvered a piece of fish dipped in wasabi into my mouth. After I caught my breath, with my eyes watering, I cleared my throat and said I liked it. Everyone laughed. Mrs. Inouye fed me throughout the meal and held my hand until we said goodbye at the hotel.

The next day K was off with his friends leaving me free to discover the city. Nothing more was mentioned about our trip being a mistake, but I did wonder who was this man I was traveling with.

Morning rush in Tokyo- Japan Travel

Morning rush in Tokyo

I decided to take a short walk. As all the signage was in Japanese characters, a hotel business card insured I could gt back to the hotel. Once outside the racket from horns and traffic was not unlike NYC. The sidewalks were filled with  people who, to my eyes, both looked and dressed alike. As I passed a huge plate glass window mirroring the scene I was struck by how different I looked.

I made it back to the hotel and the concierge called a cab to drop me off at Tokyo’s largest department store where two white gloved attendants,  after a quick bow, pulled the  doors open to what  looked like Filene’s of Boston. But as I wandered from floor to floor I quickly realized the difference: Each floor serviced customers needs, from womb to tomb, bassinet’s to coffins.

On my return to the main floor I wandered around the cosmetic department and was greeted by a woman speaking English asking me if I would be interested in having Shishedo do a makeover for me? I said yes!

The makeover

The makeover

 She introduced me to the cosmetician, who bowed, and offered his hand to climb up the mirrored steps to the platform where his station was set. Draped in a black kimono, I looked down from my perch to a sea of golden faces with shiny black hair and bright red-lipsticked mouths and thought how all those women reminded me of a garden of anemones. When the young man finished he handed me a mirror and whipped off my cape to a round of applause from the appreciative audience. And I, feeling very platinum blond, wondered what did all these women see?

We spent close to two weeks in Japan. I found Tokyo jammed with people. In  subway stations, when it seemed a train could not hold one more person, attendants, gloves on, appeared to literally shove more people onto the train before signaling for the doors to close. I learned that because Japan was so crowded, not making eye contact was a sign of respect, allowing people their privacy. I became very familiar with toilets that were two footprints and a hole. And I fell in love with Ueno Zoo and its Panda’s.

 But my favorite place was a short ride out of Tokyo to the spa town Hakone, home of the Hakone Open -Air Museum situated atop a mountain.

hakone rail Riding up to the top was an adventure! The train wound its way up, zig-zagging back and forth over switchbacks, across gorges, until it reached its last stop, the museum, set in spectacular grounds, the permanent home for approximately 120 works by well-known modern and contemporary sculptors. Add to this 5 exhibition halls including the Picasso Pavilion,

hakone interactive sculpture

hakone interactive sculpture

I visited Hakone twice while in Tokyo and yearn for a return visit. There is so much to see from interactive child friendly sculptures to pieces that moved, to stationary pieces that in their silence caused me to stare in wonder, or to be electrified by their energy. I share a few of my favorite pieces to allow readers to see the splendor of  the setting and variety of sculptures.


hakone: left hand of god

me snapping a photo of sculptures on the mountain top

me snapping a photo of sculptures on the mountain top




golden pavilion/kyoto

golden pavilion/kyoto

While I loved Tokyo and Hakone I was ready for our next destination. The Hokkaido Express, at 180 miles per hour, sped to the more tranquil Kyoto, where we were to spend a few days exploring Kyoto and staying at a typical Japanese Inn, known as ryokans.

 Once at the station we hailed a cab and within a few minutes it  turned at a bamboo fenced residence, passed through its iron gate, and pulled up to a long low building almost hidden in plantings. We were greeted by a kimono clad woman who led us to an area with a low table set in sunken area. Once we are seated she brings hot towels,  plum cakes and my requested shot of Suntory Scotch, while we are checked in. That done she beckoned us to follow her down a corridor with shoji screens for walls. When she slid a screen back, we followed her into a dimly lit room. One wall opened to a stone garden with a miniature waterfall and dwarf tree with one orange bloom. She thenryokan:futons on mats, walls of shoji screens..perfect! opened a low chest and pulled thick futons and pillows onto mats. Finally she showed us the bathroom, with a western style toilet, but a deep wooden tub filled with skin stinging hot water, Japanese style, already drawn for our anticipated bath.

Every evening when we returned from exploring the art and architecture of Kyoto it felt as if we were the only two people in this paradise. It was one of the most romantic places I have ever stayed. And it worked its magic on us. Our time in Japan was coming to a close and I was more than ready for our next destination, the mythical land of Hong Kong.

Chapt 16:” Come With Me-“

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Come with me
To half a world away—
And more

To the beaches of Langkawi
Where Casuarina pines

In answer to the Penang-Bankok

That train that runs ahead
Of sparks
With lovers hurrying on
To form

Daring shadows in the dark.



When my lover sent me the poem “Come with me a half a world away” all I could think of, after I said yes, yes, yes (with apologies to Molly Bloom), was “watch out world, here I come.” I was excited for many reasons. Not only was this the trip of a lifetime, I knew the time and energy required to make this trip a reality would free me from the hold my secret affair with food had on my daily life. Thus, it never once occurred to me to think twice about this trip.  I made it work out.

On the home front, I hired my college- aged daughter and her friend to live at the house to care for my teenage son and daughter, the pets, and the house. I pre-paid my mortgage and monthly bills, left money and credit cards for other expenses, and knew their father, who lived three hours away, was back up. With that settled, I then worked with K  on the trip.

We  purchased Northwest-Air India around the world tickets. Their only restriction being we moved only West as we traveled. This restriction became the guideline for plotting our destinations; San Francisco, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Maylasia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Italy and finally London.

Golden Gate Welcome

Golden Gate Welcome

When our late May departure day arrived we drove to Boston’s Logan Airport headed for San Francisco. My first sight of the Golden Gate Bridge confirmed the adventure had begun!

After checking in to our hotel we went exploring, stopping into galleries, shops and finally at a trattoria for an early dinner. Drugged on food and wine, we dragged our exhausted bodies back to our room, barely able to slip between the sheets, before succumbing to a dreamless sleep.

While in San Franciso we explored its unique neighborhoods, such as Chinatown and Japantown. The first morning we headed for Chinatown stopping for a cup of coffee at a McDonalds one block before the Chinese gate. When we entered it was obvious this was not like any McDonalds we had ever visited! With the exception of a few white faces, everyone was Chinese, spoke Chinese, as did the gentleman, with a carafe in hand, who refilled his patrons cups and chatted with them as if they were in his living room. In a way they were.

We were soon on our way and passing through the ornate gates of Chinatown  into

Chinatown, San Francisco

Chinatown, San Francisco

streets looking like a Hollywood version of China. The streets were lined with restaurants and shops festooned with red banners and flags with Chinese characters identifying shops selling Chinese herbs, foods, clothing, jade and gold jewelry.

The sound of drums and music beckoned us to a nearby street where a parade was in motion. Ornately costumed musicians and dancers waved banners with Chinese characters. A very long red and gold dragon slithered by on many black clad feet visible beneath the skirts of the dragon’s belly. The dragon’s nostrils and mouth exhaled bursts of fire with each shake of its enormous head. Children and adults gleefully clapped hands for the dragon and too soon the parade disappeared down the street.

Marin County

Marin County

After lunch at a Chinese diner, where I nervously sighted my first cockroach walking across the ceiling, we joined a bus tour to Marin County. I was immediately fascinated by its houseboat communities. What, I wondered, would it be like to live tied to a dock on the water instead living in a house set on three acres of land? It seemed very romantic and free of all the maintanance required by a house on land.

Later we stopped at Muir Woods and my first experience seeing the giant redwood forest left me breathless. The forest was almost primordial and dwarfed anything seen in my beloved New England woods.

On our last, we visited Japantown. If Chinatown was a riot of color and noise, Japantown was serene. Here people passed quietly in the streets lined with building, hotels and shops of distinctive Japanese Japantownarchitecture. The shops here were filled with beautiful wrapping papers, chopsticks, porcelain dinnerware, stone teapots, kimonos, all like nothing I have ever seen before, and an indication of what awaited us at tomorrow’s destination, Tokyo, Japan, a fourteen hour flight away. As the plane thundered through the ice blue cloudless sky I was about to experience a country and a culture so foreign from what I knew, and I was about to learn what it meant to be “the other”.



Chapt. 15: The Truth About” Answered Prayers”

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more tears shed over answered prayers

more tears shed over answered prayers

” There are more tears shed over answered prayers than unanswered prayers” goes the quote by Truman Capote, a truth I was about to experience when a woman friend mentioned her husband was in search of a personal assistant and suggested I apply.

The interview ended with my starting the next week as his new personal assistant. My responsibilities were wide ranging, from hiring, training and managing the office to managing the inventory for a small part of the business. My prayers were answered! I had found an exciting job that left  little time for my bulimic behavior.

replica of my office

replica of my office

When I first read the contract I was to offer the new, all women, staff, I noted it did not include health coverage and brought this to “the Bosses” attention. His reply was, “health coverage for the women was  unnecessary, as they were covered by their husbands’ policy”. I pointed out all but one of the women working for us were either divorced or single parents and health care was essential. While he grudgingly gave in to my logic, his warm morning greeting turned clipped and formal.

Company Brunch

Company Brunch

A week before he left on a business trip he asked I set up a luncheon to thank all  NH politico’s and business people who helped make the relocation of the company successful. I sent out the invites and received a call from the woman Director of the State Business Development office, instrumental in providing the company five years worth of tax breaks,  asking to bring her husband to the luncheon. I said I was sure that would be fine.

Unbeknownst to me, the boss had taken a strong dislike to the husband. Upon his return from his business trip I mentioned the Director would be bringing her husband to the luncheon. The boss turned bright red and told me to disinvite him,”Tell her we don’t have any seats at the table, or tell her anything you want, but I don’t want him here”.

To which,  without a moment’s hesitation, I replied, “you are welcome to make that call, but I will not.” He glowered at me and told me to get back to work.

The luncheon was successful and in his comments to the group he added me to those he thanked.  I thought were back on the right foot. But then, the next day at work, he stopped talking to me, communicating  only through office memo or the intercom.

When, a few weeks later “the boss” circulated a memo telling my staff I had done something stupid, I knew I had to clear the air. I knocked on his door and heard “enter”. He didn’t acknowledge me as I approached his desk. After a few moments of silence I spoke, saying working this way was not  good for either of us and what might I do to sort this out.

Without ever looking at me,  he said, ” Pack up your things and leave. Now.”


your fired!

I was in shock as I packed up my things. It was ten o’clock in the morning and I didn’t know where to go. The last place I wanted to go was home where nothing awaited me but a pantry full of food.

And then, as my then lover was not working, I drove to his house. When he opened the door I exploded into tears. When I was quite worn out, I heard him ask, “Now that you are out of a job, perhaps  you have will join me on a trip around the world and a stop to visit my family in South East Asia?

Yes, I said, for reasons this man did not understand. My fear that without the job to fill my empty hours I would tumble back down into bulimic behavior. He did not know he was another answered prayer because with  this invitation, he might save me from myself.

So, yes, I said, even though a shadow crossed my mind, reminding me my lover and I didn’t really know each other very well.  Yes, I said, believing everything would work out.

And it almost did.



Chapter 14: “Live Free or Die”

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Holderness NH 1978

If there is one thing I can do, it’s throw a party. And so, at a Muse Norcross gathering to hughorganize area Democrats for the upcoming gubernatorial election, I offered to organize a local open house fundraiser, to introduce our candidate, Hugh Gallen, to voters. Hugh was a well loved entrepreneur from the Littleton area, who currently owned an auto dealership. His campaign message was a pledge to rebuild the economy to New Hampshire, without instituting a state income tax, a point of pride for “Live Free of Die” New Hampshire citizens who would never vote for anyone who dared touch that sacred cow.

The offer to organize an open house was no sooner out of my mouth than I heard, from different corners of the room,“I’ll help, count me in.”  We needed all the people we could get as we had less than four months before the election.

blair bridge restaurantg The Bridge restaurant, agreed to donate their premises, and free appetizers, in return for the proceeds of an open bar, and the free advertising their establishment would enjoy from their participation.

After months of talking to members of the Knight’s of Columbus, Rotarians and local Chamber of Commerces, months of  local radio and newspaper coverage, and days of putting up posters everywhere, when the day of the event arrived, we didn’t have the foggiest idea who would show up.

By one o’clock the Bridge was jam-packed with people arriving in old cars, new cars, and pick up trucks, dressed in suits, overalls, housedresses or Sunday’s best. Some brought their children. It was a lovely madhouse.

Exhilarated by the turn out, when it came time to introduce Mr. Gallen I stood up on a table, whistled to get everyone’s attention, and introduced our candidate to the crowd.

Gallen Wins

Gallen Wins

Hugh spoke about why New Hampshire needed a change; of  why the trickle down economic theory of the Republicans didn’t help business; about small business owners no longer able to survive the cost of doing business in New Hampshire; of the generations of families who worked in the mills, and now find they are unemployed with no employment readily available.  It was the speech he would give all over New Hampshire, tweaking it to fit the different counties of a mostly blue-collar state. He was onto something, because on voting day he won. But I felt we had all won!

Shortly after the election I received a call saying the Governor would like me to come in. His wife Irene, whom I enjoyed getting to know over the long campaign, greeted me in the outer office. She pulled me over to the side and conspiratorially said, “Midge, he won’t listen to me and perhaps he’ll listen to you. Someone has to tell him his pants are too short!”

The Governor stood to greet me when I walked into his office, and although I could see his sox up to his ankles I thought it better not to mention it. He came around his desk, put his arm around my shoulder, and thanked me saying, “Your efforts went a long way towards getting me here. Now, what can I do for you?”

And silly me, unemployed at the time, asked to be one of the chairwomen for his inaugural ball.

Done, he said.  I walked out of the office not yet realizing I had missed an opportunity of a lifetime to jump-start a badly needed career.

It didn’t take long for me to understand my mistake. With the election over and no employment, thumb_COLOURBOX7031171the empty hours at home invited my food issues to resurface once again. I began looking for work but was not immediately successful.  I knew I had to get out of the house. I  began running the three-mile ridge outside my door, everyday, no matter the weather and found running soothed the anxiety that rushed over me, like a waves, when I least expected it.

Each day I awoke saying, “Not today, I will not engage in this practice today” but all too often I succumbed to the bingeing and purging that defines the behavior of Bulimia.  I was furious that I was hostage to this syndrome, and terribly confused as to why.  I was happily divorced. Peter was out of our lives. I had resumed  a relationship with my Mother. My children were all doing well. Why couldn’t I stave off the bingeing and purging? It was depressing to feel so powerless. It appeared only working and staying busy kept the beast at bay. So as work was not on my immediate horizon, I threw myself into physical activity, which provided some relief and insights.

hike 1

It was then, not surprising, when on a hike up Mount Chocorua with friend, something clicked, that began to change my perspective.  My friend and I reached a narrow rocky path that seemed to have boulder blocking the path to the mountain’s granite summit. As I have a morbid fear of heights just walking this path was terrifying. My friend had taken the lead, walking slowly ahead, to give me confidence of the path’s safety. When he disappeared from sight, leaving only this boulder between me and the summit path, I froze.

It seemed an eternity, before my friend, realizing I was not behind him, returned saying “Ah, there you are.” Sensing the situation he offered his hand while pointing to steps, I had not seen, carved into in the granite. I took a deep breath, grabbed his hand, and without looking down, found myself on the other side of the boulder. My feet were now on a well- traveled trail leading to the top, where I was rewarded with  extraordinary views as far as the Atlantic Ocean. I turned to my friend and thanked him putting this amazing destination within my reach.

As I descended the mountain I felt strong and healthy. Hiking and running  became my opiates. And I adopted the NH state slogan, “Live Free or Die”, to navigate through the challenges coming my way.